Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / - contact me Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / on Twitter Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / - Lumondo Photography Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / - Pi Art Martin Krzywinski / Genome Sciences Center / - Hilbertonians - Creatures on the Hilbert Curve
And she looks like the moon. So close and yet, so far.Future Islandsaim highmore quotes

art: fun

Functional annotation of gene sequences—a visualization workshop. Poznan, Poland. Dec 12, 2015

art + science activism

Watch the video of this project, which features the participants who have a BRCA mutation and their interaction with the piece. The video also highlights the design and construction of the mural.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Science and art and personal stories of cancer survivors combine into this beautiful depiction of the complexity and individuality of the genome. (Free the Data)

Human Genome Art by Humans with Genomes

I recently took part in a deeply meaningful collaboration of science, art and personal stories of cancer survivors.

Together with Joanna Rudnick and Aaron De La Cruz, we sought to create a work of art that combines the science of cancer genomics and the individuals whose lives are affected by genetic mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, where genomic changes drastically increase one's chances of breast and ovarian cancer.

We wanted to make something that is scientifically accurate, artistically beautiful and emotionally engaging. The complexity of the genome, the multitudes of other genes and possible mutations and the millions of personal stories of hardship and survival were just a few of the elements we wanted to include the the piece.

My role was to provide the scientific direction behind the design and incorporate it into the aesthetic of Aaron De La Cruz, a street artist from San Francisco whose work echoes information, complexity, interaction and continuity. We all have a genome — a different genome. The ways in which our genomes are different is what gives us traits like hair and eye color, but is also what makes some of us predisposed to diseases like cancer.

The mural, which includes elements drawn by the cancer survivors, is part of the Free the Data campaign, which is advocating for an open access model of genome mutation databases so that scientists everywhere can analyze it and help women make informed choices about their breast-cancer risk.

The piece Importance of Data Sharing by Nature Methods illustrated the point:

Imagine you are a physician or researcher and seek to get more confirmation on the clinical impact of particular genetic variants. If your search of public databases comes up empty this does not necessarily mean that nothing is known about the mutations in question. Rather, the information may be locked away as a trade secret in a genetic testing company’s proprietary database.

The New York Times article DNA Project Aims to Make Public a Company’s Data on Cancer Genes captures the current state of the situation.

The mural was constructed on location at InVitae in San Francisco.

A video of the project is available.

Beautiful, meaningful and personal

This work will be, as far as I know, the first human annotation of mutations in the human genome by humans whose genomes have the mutations. That's quite a term!

I've always been mindful of the necessity of the mingling of art and science. In my work I tried to add things I felt about the science I thought to create work that combines our objective understanding of the world we live in with the subjective experience of living in it. This project, by far, has been the most keenly felt.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Adding emotion, keeping the science. (Free the Data)

the design

The mural was created in San Francisco on Saturday, July 13th, 2013. We are starting with a 11' x 6' wood canvas. These dimensions reflect the ratio of lengths of BRCA1 and BRCA2 proteins (1,863 and 3,418 amino acids, respectively)

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
The canvas aspect ratio reflects the ratio of BRCA1 and BRCA2 protein lengths. The proteins are represented on the canvas as lines. (Free the Data)

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 proteins are drawn on the canvas as straight-line sections.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
The genes are depicted on the canvas as their protein products. (Free the Data)

The locations of the participants mutations are positioned on the protein lines as circles. For individuals with large deletions, the circle is placed at the first affected amino acid. Because BRCA1 is location on the opposite strand (anti-sense), its start on the canvas is on the right.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
11 mutations, one for each of the cancer previvor and survivor participants, are placed on the protein lines as circles. The start of BRCA1 is on the right to reflect that this gene is on the anti-sense strand. (Free the Data)

The rest of the genome is now drawn. Aaron's style is perfect for depicting information and the endless complexity of the genome and its interacting elements. We were careful to include elements that indicate that the story told today is not complete. Millions of others have mutations in thousands of other genes, each potentially life-threatening. Just as the stories of our participants will continue to evolve, other stories are waiting to be told.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
BRCA1 and BRCA2 proteins and their mutations, together with the rest of the genome. Other lines and circles hint at other genes, other mutations, as well as the biochemical interactions in the cells and personal interactions of those affected by the mutations. (Free the Data)

Once the "reference" genome is depicted, participants with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations will complete the art work by individually marking the positions of their mutations on the art using personalized colors. With Aaron's help, everyone created their own color by mixing primary colors.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Participants fill in their mutation circles with their personalized color. (Free the Data)

From base pair, to genome, to person, to life. All it takes is one tiny change in the genome to change a life forever.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
The mutations of 11 people in the vastness of the genome. What's your story? (Free the Data)

creation of free the data mural

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 lines were placed on the canvas by first pinning two pieces of string, marked with the positions of the mutations.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
String was used to mark the placing of lines and mutations. (Free the Data)

After drawing the protein lines, it was time to fill the canvas.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Aaron De La Cruz creating the art work. Here, he is filling the space in the canvas around the BRCA1 and BRCA2 segments with his design. The project was shot with a Red Camera—this is a sequence from its render application. (Free the Data)

Over the next 4 hours, Aaron filled in the canvas with the "rest" of the genome.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Aaron De La Cruz creating the art work. Here, he is filling the space in the canvas around the BRCA1 and BRCA2 segments with his design. The project was shot with a Red Camera—this is a sequence from its render application. (Free the Data)


Lucy, Karen, Steve, Ghecemy, Joanna, Jill, Lisa, Lynn, Ruth, Jenica, Susan

Cancer previvors and survivors who have been diagnosed with a mutation on BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

Joanna Rudnick (director/producer)

Joanna made her directorial debut with the Emmy-nominated In the Family, a deeply personal film about coming to terms with testing positive for the breast cancer gene BRCA1 mutation and following the storylines of other women and families facing the same hard choices. In the Family premiered at Silverdocs in 2008, was broadcast nationally on PBS P.O.V. the same year and was a finalist for the NIHCM Foundation’s Health Care Radio and Television Journalism Award.

Joanna received a master’s degree in Science and Environmental Journalism from New York University and a bachelor’s degree in English from Northwestern University. Joanna loves the opportunity to teach and mentor and served as an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in the past.

She has written for several publications including Audubon Magazine, The Artful Mind, The Berkshire Record and Humanities. Before finding her way to the wonderful world of documentaries, Joanna served as an Americorps volunteer, implementing project-based environmental curricula in the San Francisco Public School System.

Joanna is one of the cancer survivors whose mutations are encoded in the art.

Aaron De La Cruz (artist)

Aaron De La Cruz's work, though minimal and direct at first, tends to overcome barriers of separation and freely steps in and out of the realms of design, graffiti, and illustration.

The parameters he has chosen to work within actually allow him to free himself and react to the very limitations he has created. This overriding structure and the lack of deliberation while moving within creates a tension when encountering his work due to the almost computer generated grid like systems he creates by unplanned markmaking. The act and the marks themselves are very primal in nature but tend to take on distinct and sometimes higher meanings in the broad range of mediums and contexts they appear in and on.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Work by Aaron De La Cruz. (Aaron De La Cruz)

His work finds strengths in the reduction of his interests in life to minimal information. De La Cruz gains from the idea of exclusion, just because you don't literally see it doesn't mean that its not there.


news + thoughts

Play the Bacteria Game

Thu 19-11-2015

Choose your own dust adventure!

Nobody likes dusting but everyone should find dust interesting.

Working with Jeannie Hunnicutt and with Jen Christiansen's art direction, I created this month's Scientific American Graphic Science visualization based on a recent paper The Ecology of microscopic life in household dust.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
An analysis of dust reveals how the presence of men, women, dogs and cats affects the variety of bacteria in a household. Appears on Graphic Science page in December 2015 issue of Scientific American.

This was my third information graphic for the Graphic Science page. Unlike the previous ones, it's visually simple and ... interactive. Or, at least, as interactive as a printed page can be.

More of my American Scientific Graphic Science designs

Barberan A et al. (2015) The ecology of microscopic life in household dust. Proc. R. Soc. B 282: 20151139.

Names for 5,092 colors

Tue 03-11-2015

A very large list of named colors generated from combining some of the many lists that already exist (X11, Crayola, Raveling, Resene, wikipedia, xkcd, etc).

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Confused? So am I. That's why I made a list.

For each color, coordinates in RGB, HSV, XYZ, Lab and LCH space are given along with the 5 nearest, as measured with ΔE, named neighbours.

I also provide a web service. Simply call this URL with an RGB string.

Simple Linear Regression

Sat 07-11-2015

It is possible to predict the values of unsampled data by using linear regression on correlated sample data.

This month, we begin our column with a quote, shown here in its full context from Box's paper Science and Statistics.

In applying mathematics to subjects such as physics or statistics we make tentative assumptions about the real world which we know are false but which we believe may be useful nonetheless. The physicist knows that particles have mass and yet certain results, approximating what really happens, may be derived from the assumption that they do not. Equally, the statistician knows, for example, that in nature there never was a normal distribution, there never was a straight line, yet with normal and linear assumptions, known to be false, he can often derive results which match, to a useful approximation, those found in the real world.
Box, G. J. Am. Stat. Assoc. 71, 791–799 (1976).

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Simple Linear Regression. (read)

This column is our first in the series about regression. We show that regression and correlation are related concepts—they both quantify trends—and that the calculations for simple linear regression are essentially the same as for one-way ANOVA.

While correlation provides a measure of a specific kind of association between variables, regression allows us to fit correlated sample data to a model, which can be used to predict the values of unsampled data.

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2015) Points of Significance: Simple Linear Regression Nature Methods 12:999-1000.

Background reading

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2015) Points of significance: Association, correlation and causation Nature Methods 12:899-900.

Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and blocking. Nature Methods 11:699-700.

...more about the Points of Significance column

Association, correlation and causation

Sat 07-11-2015

Correlation implies association, but not causation. Conversely, causation implies association, but not correlation.

This month, we distinguish between association, correlation and causation.

Association, also called dependence, is a very general relationship: one variable provides information about the other. Correlation, on the other hand, is a specific kind of association: an increasing or decreasing trend. Not all associations are correlations. Moreover, causality can be connected only to association.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Association, correlation and causation. (read)

We discuss how correlation can be quantified using correlation coefficients (Pearson, Spearman) and show how spurious corrlations can arise in random data as well as very large independent data sets. For example, per capita cheese consumption is correlated with the number of people who died by becoming tangled in bedsheets.

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2015) Points of Significance: Association, correlation and causation Nature Methods 12:899-900.

...more about the Points of Significance column

Bayesian networks

Thu 01-10-2015

For making probabilistic inferences, a graph is worth a thousand words.

This month we continue with the theme of Bayesian statistics and look at Bayesian networks, which combine network analysis with Bayesian statistics.

In a Bayesian network, nodes represent entities, such as genes, and the influence that one gene has over another is represented by a edge and probability table (or function). Bayes' Theorem is used to calculate the probability of a state for any entity.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Bayesian networks. (read)

In our previous columns about Bayesian statistics, we saw how new information (likelihood) can be incorporated into the probability model (prior) to update our belief of the state of the system (posterior). In the context of a Bayesian network, relationships called conditional dependencies can arise between nodes when information is added to the network. Using a small gene regulation network we show how these dependencies may connect nodes along different paths.

Background reading

Puga, J.L, Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2015) Points of Significance: Bayesian Statistics Nature Methods 12:277-278.

Puga, J.L, Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2015) Points of Significance: Bayes' Theorem Nature Methods 12:277-278.

...more about the Points of Significance column